Pictures and a 1000 words

Beyond just visiting places and looking around, it's usually the people you meet that make the most interesting bits. On a recent trip to Naldehra and Shimla, Karen and I went to visit local artist, Him Chatterjee, who is also a professor of the Visual Arts at Himachal Pradesh University. It was an absolutely delightful visit to his residence/gallery where Him enthralled us with a private tour of his work and spoke passionately about his brilliant father, the sage artist and one of the last pioneers of the Bengal School of Art, Sanat Kumar Chatterjee. The latter is a Guinness Book of Records holder for the longest painting in the world and his paintings are sought after by some of the most famous international art buying houses, though he chose to never sell his work. Him also offers art residencies at the Sanat Art Foundation and was happy to chat with me about his journey as an artist, his father's influence and how important the local surroundings have been in shaping his work. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Your role as a professor and as an artist.

Him Chatterjee
I am a visual artist. I see everything as beautiful. I believe that you just need an eye to see, a heart to feel and a brain to possess. This makes your life and world stunning. Creativity is the only power which makes one immortal, trying to create something innovative and beautiful is my passion.

The day I opened my eyes I saw my father painting. I heard the secrets of art and philosophy. So my basic training in the art of creating beauty started unknowingly, but after my graduation I took the Visual Arts seriously. From then onward my journey of life began.

I try to follow my father’s words; he used to say that you carry out different natural processes everyday like eating, sleeping, urinating etc. Similarly practicing art should become an everyday process which should come to you naturally.

Being a professor of my field working with students is a tedious job too, if ten budding artists are working under me then it is like working simultaneously on ten canvases and it’s another art for me to understand the ten brains and their visual worlds. I become a part of their journey of inspiration to expression. There are many artists around the world who realized their dreams while being an artist and a teacher as well like Abindranath Tagore, K.K. Habber, K.G. Subramaniyam and many more. Therefore for me professorship and an artist are the two sides of one coin, both are important and both complement each other.

There is a strong influence of the region's landscape and culture in your work. Could you tell us a bit more about these themes.

I paint what I see; what influences me…Philosophically and Spiritually. I spent my childhood in the lap of the Himalayas, traveled a lot and my father named me Him, meaning snow, the first three alphabets of Himalayas and Himachal. So the essence of my name also influenced my fascination with the majestic aura, colour changing beauty, cold and solitude of the mountains. Gradually it became my inspiration and I started expressing myself through the mountains, its people and their life.

Tell us about your father and his journey as an artist, influence under Asit Kumar Haldar and his decision to make Shimla his home.

Sanat Kumar Chatterjee
In the year 1960 my father came to Shimla and settled here. Coming to Shimla was not a coincidence, it was a command by his Guru, Asit Kumar Halder, to go to the Himalayas and practice art as a sage as Guru Dakshina. 

I think it was the part of the same continuous revolution started by the father of Indian Renaissance, Shri Abindranath Tagore, as he also sent his best students to different parts of India to spread the essence of Indian Art Indian nationalism. Like Asit Halder to Lucknow and Jaipur, Sudhir Kastgir to Dehradoon, Sarada Ukil to Delhi etc. 

Similarly my father had also been sent here to the Himalayas to spread and revive oriental art.

What are a few of your favourite pieces of work by your father.

His best paintings include a long scroll of 5 x 75 feet on single paper with water colour wash techniques, a 20 point series, shruti, and sutra series and many more.

Growing up around creative brilliance has obviously influenced you. Your style is very different from your father's. How did he influence you as an artist and a person.

My style of work is just opposite of my father’s style of work. He used to generate a complex thought process in his mind before he started any work, but my way is to just start without any thought process, I start playing with colours and gradually a conversation starts between me and my creation and it ends with a love affair with a meaning and thoughts and a story to be told in each work of mine.
As I mentioned my father influenced me a lot but on the other hand he always maintained a distance and never forced me to do some training for special techniques in arts. He always believed no plant can grow under a banyan tree.

Tell us more about the Sanat Art Foundation? Do you work with local artists in any way and promote indigenous art or local techniques? 

Throughout his life my father practiced and lived art like a true sage. Establishing an art gallery was my dream and my father also wanted to have a place where he could display his works, like a temple. He tried to set up an art gallery in Lucknow where he was from, but due to his ailments that dream never saw the morning sun. Later we set up an art gallery at Hiun, a village near Shimla, with a fantastic collection of old masters, his work, my work and some good work of contemporary artists.

I dedicated the gallery to my father, and my endeavour to create a haven of art. Inviting local artists here encouraged villagers to be a part of the foundation and create an art village of Himachal.

School children, civil services trainees, and Fellows of the Indian Institute of Advance Study in Shimla are some of the regular visitors to the gallery every year.

Tell us more about the art residencies you offer to people who may want to come and stay at the rooms provided in your gallery. 

Artists and art lovers from different parts of the world are now coming to our residency. Living with an artist, watching the creative journey and speaking about art, playing with colours are all a unique experience. There is also trekking and yoga on offer, visits to areas like Chadwick Falls, local food with villagers, folk dance performances and more experiences unique to the area.

If you're interested in getting in touch with Him, visiting the Sanat Art Foundation or booking an art residency, contact details are available on their Facebook page.


Usha Bande said…
It is a well written piece. Congrats Him and kudos to the author.
Reem said…
Thanks very much, glad you enjoyed reading it.

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